Tips for Writing a Student Reference Letter

What to Say and What Not to Say in a Reference Letter

Caucasian college student using laptop outdoors
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Being asked to write a reference or recommendation letter for a student shouldn’t be taken lightly. A student doesn’t typically have much job experience, so a letter of recommendation can be a critical component of them getting a job.

Only agree if you know the student well and can speak highly of their character and work ethic. Knowing what to say and what not to say is a priority as well.

What to Say
  • State how long you've know the student and how you met.

  • Give one or two examples of their work and state why it impressed you.

  • Be sure to include your contact information so the reader can follow up.

What Not to Say
  • Don't try to write a letter for someone you don't know particularly well.

  • Tone down superlatives to one or two powerful words rather than going over the top.

  • Be honest and don't embellish or you might be tripped up if a prospective employer contacts you to discuss the student.

What to Include in a Reference Letter

Use a business letter format with the appropriate salutation. Introduce yourself, then explain how you know the student. Be specific. For example, you might say that you own a communications company and the student was a full-time intern over the summer, or that the student worked part-time in your office during college.

Be sure to provide concrete examples of the kind of work the student did, and how they excelled in each area. Explain how the student's work benefited you or your business. 

Finally, don’t forget to give your contact information so the prospective employer can follow up with you if the student is being considered for the job.

Sample Reference Letter for a College Student

Here's an example of a reference letter for a college student. You can download the template—it's compatible with Google Docs and Word Online—or see below for more examples.

Screenshot of a student reference letter
©TheBalance 2018

Sample Reference Letter for a College Student (Text Version)

Janey Lee 
123 Main Street 
Anytown, CA 12345 

September 1, 2018

Drew Smith Director, Human Resources 
Acme Office Supplies 
123 Business Rd. 
Business City, NY 54321

Dear Mr. Smith,

I have had the pleasure of working with Alicia Jones for the past two years while she served as an assistant in the Office of Career Development, where I hold the position of director. Alicia has consistently shown the ability to establish an excellent rapport with many different constituents including students, alumni, administrators, and staff. She is genuinely interested in helping others and provides service in a consistently positive and helpful manner. She also knows how to comport herself when things go wrong.

For instance, during last year's Career Services Day, Alicia hosted the New Student's Desk and demonstrated grace under fire when the computers went down, and pamphlets and other crucial material were no longer available. She managed to reach our IT department on short notice, and they were able to rectify the situation without delay. This is but one example of how Alicia is self-assured and calmly handles stress, something very common in a busy office.

Alicia is also exceptionally responsible and is always the first to volunteer and help out with any task from the mundane to the challenging. I have rarely met a student employee over the past ten years upon whom I can rely on as much as Alicia. Initially, Alicia was hired to man the front-desk because of her strong interpersonal and communication skills. She quickly learned the parameters of the office and displayed such a strong work ethic I promoted her after just four months. Not surprisingly, she quickly learned the inner workings of her new position and before long excelled in her new role, completing tasks either on-time or ahead of schedule.

I think very highly of this young, bright woman and recommend Alicia without reservation for employment, whether it's full-time, part-time, or just seasonal work.

Please let me know if you have any further questions about this outstanding young woman. Also, I am available to talk to you by phone or video conference with you to further explain Alicia's qualifications in more detail.


Ms. Janey Lee

Sending the Letter

Be sure to ask the student how they would like you to send the letter of recommendation. Is it to be mailed by post or sent by email? Keep a copy for your own records, and send it to the student as well as the hiring manager of the company who requested the reference.

Additional Reference Letter Samples

A recommendation for a student is just one type of reference letter. Review more sample reference letters and recommendation letters, plus letter samples for character references. And if you’re the one who's looking for a reference, check out our examples for letters asking for a recommendation.